How 2 spooky local businesses are dealing with COVID-19

Two Halloween-themed attractions in Ottawa are facing different challenges due to COVID-19, with one making major adjustments to fit in with health guidelines and the other postponing its signature event.

Some have cancelled, others creating new products

Two women pause to take a photograph at a pumpkin show in Massachusetts earlier this month. The COVID-19 pandemic is changing how many businesses, both in Ottawa and beyond, are approaching the holiday. (Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle via Associated Press)

Two Halloween-themed attractions in Ottawa are facing different challenges due to COVID-19, with one making major adjustments to fit in with health guidelines and the other postponing its signature event.

At Lansdowne Park, a new event called The Sawmill — an interactive storytelling experience put on by Saunders Farm in partnership with Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group — was supposed to launch this weekend.

Participants would have encountered a lost colony of millworkers beneath the stadium's former grandstands.

But Mark Saunders, who runs the farm, said he was told late Thursday by the city that they'd only be allowed to have 10 people enter the site at a time — down from a previous cap of 25.

Saunders said they'd been approved for 25 people after provincial guidelines returned Ottawa to a modified version of Stage 2, but upon further inspection they were deemed to be an indoor event, which has a lower limit. 

"We decided, out of the abundance of caution, to pull the plug on the event," said Saunders.

Mark Saunders had hoped to launch The Sawmill, an interactive storytelling experience with nods to Ottawa's lumber town history, this month at Lansdowne Park. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Saunders said he invested more than $200,000 in The Sawmill, and only having 10 people enter at a time wouldn't mesh with the vision he had — nor would it make financial sense.

"That investment is quite substantial ... we were employing approximately 25 people to run the whole experience, and all of those people now will not be employed."

All tickets will be transferred to the 2021 event, Saunders said, adding that people who want a refund can contact the farm.

Haunted walks continue

Ottawa's medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, is advising that trick-or-treating be called off this year and that residents should only celebrate with their households. 

Ottawa's Haunted Walks tour company is continuing with its programming — and in fact has created more, after losing much of its school-related business in the fall.

"We've definitely been ... agile and trying to make sure that we do the things that we can, but also making sure that we're able to not take any chances with safety," said owner Glen Shackleton. 

The company is capping its walking tours at a maximum of 12 people, about half as large as normal. All households on the walks have to remain physically distanced from each other.

Glen Shackleton, owner of Haunted Walks, says the pandemic has forced his business to try a few new things — and so far, they've been successful. (submitted by Haunted Walks Inc.)

"The tour guides have zero tolerance for people breaking the rules," he said. 

The company has also created new virtual products this year, including haunted campfires with international storytellers and a virtual experiment designed to test if your house is haunted.  

"In some ways, we've been able to take ... the limitations of the pandemic, and turn it into an opportunity to do something that we probably could have never done before," Shackledton said.



Natalia is a multi-platform journalist in Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.

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